Earning True Customer Loyalty Requires More Than “Afterthought”

Gaining long-term customer loyalty is a process and it takes time. Some results are not apparent for months. Many times it requires process changes – and sometimes complete culture changes – initiated at the highest leadership levels.

Temkin's Top 20 "True Loyalty" Earners in 2010A recent study by the Temkin Group shows that many executives mistakenly see good, quality customer service as an afterthought. Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, states that “many executives think of customer experience management as the icing on the cake of their business, believing they can slap on some good experience and everything will get better.” In reality, “customer experience improvement requires broad cultural and operational changes as part of a multi-year journey.”

If you’re ready to improve your customer loyalty, but aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few cultural and/or operational changes you can try:

Put Employees First. Before a company can have loyal customers, it must first have loyal employees who feel they are making vital contributions to the company’s overall success. When they feel like a valued part of a team, instead of simply “one of the grunts,” their positive attitude will be contagious and your customers will be infected most.

Ask Customers What They Think. You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you stand. The results can sometimes be alarming, but can give you a foundation of understanding that you can build on. Once you’re on the path to loyalty, keep asking! Getting “progress reports” from regular customers can help you gauge the success of each loyalty initiative.

Don’t Ignore Dissatisfied Customers. Customers who have a negative experience that is turned around and handled positively will often be more loyal than customers who are merely satisfied with each visit.

Remember the Human Factor. You are, after all, dealing with people here, and loyalty is as much an emotion as a behavior. A business relationship is a fine balance between the personal and the professional. Build solid relationships, but don’t take advantage of their trust. The customer may not always be right, but they should always be treated with respect.

Implement A Loyalty Rewards Program. A good loyalty program will help you understand your customers better – the who, what, when, where, why and how of their shopping habits. The benefit comes in enabling you to reward and incentivize your customers individually, encouraging them to keep coming back.

If you’ve already implemented a loyalty program, or are just getting one started, here are a few things you might want to consider:

Assign one employee with marketing responsibility and empower them to “own” the Rewards Program and oversee its ongoing implementation.

Hold regular trainings and reviews for every employee at every level.  Ensure each one understands why the program is in place and what they can do to help it succeed.

Review the program initiatives and results with key management at a minimum of twice per month (initially it should be weekly).

Be flexible. Evaluate what elements are working best and be willing to make changes to those that are failing. Loyalty programs should be dynamic, adjusting to changes in their customers’ needs, the economy, etc.

According to the Temkin report, companies that achieved the highest levels of customer loyalty in 2010 include Kohl’s, Costco, eBay, Southwest Airlines and Vanguard, with topping the list (see image). These are big brands with positive images that most of us will recognize without any effort. They have built their corporate culture and processes around principles of customer service and have, in turn, earned our loyalty.

Which of Temkin’s “Top 20” companies have earned your loyalty?  What sets them apart?

What other customer relationship practices do you see in these successful loyalty earners? How can you apply this in your own store or office?

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